Freud, underappreciated

Sigmund Freud is, of course, a familiar name in North American households.  Usually his name is adjectified in accusatory phrases, such as, “That was a Freudian slip!”  But he is less well known as a philosopher, which he very clearly was.  bgtitle

Perhaps those who are impressed by his work in psychology are afraid of his equally impressive work in comparative religion.  Which wouldn’t surprise me.

Freud’s historical explanation of religion is set out in his Totem and Taboo. There he imagines a father of a primal horde, whose sons envy his access to the tribe’s women, and so overwhelm and kill him. Even after their rebellion, the sons cannot fulfil their desire to emulate their father, due to competition between them. Religion arose out of the frustration and guilt that they felt.

Freud’s psychological explanation of religion builds on the ideas of Ludwig Feuerbach. Feuerbach developed the idea that God is projection of the unconscious mind; Freud added to this a psychological foundation. For Freud, as for Feuerbach, religion is wish-fulfilment. Freud adds the explanation that the adoption of religion is a reversion to childish patterns of thought in response to feelings of helplessness and guilt. We feel a need for security and forgiveness, and so invent a source of security and forgiveness: God. Religion is thus seen as a childish delusion, and atheism as a grown-up realism.

Why is this so hard to take for so many people?  There is no god, there is no afterlife.  My beloved brother is gone; I will never see him again.  Yet he is still so alive with me every day.  I say something and hear his phrase; I hear a song we used to whistle together; I look at the car my wife and I bought on his recommendation.  I don’t have to wait until heaven to see him.  He will only be gone when people stop remembering him.  And so it is with us all.


About Emmett

I am a 1st grade teacher who loves reading, writing, hiking, corresponding, learning languages, and lots of other stuff fit for a person with mild ADD. I am married to the wonderful Angela Estes and I have two fabulous daughters, Margaret and Emily.
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